Atheist group, angry mom go ballistic over prayer at pretend preschool commencement

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The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation has sent a two-page letter to a school district in southeast Texas complaining about a preschool graduation ceremony begun with an unconstitutional prayer.

The controversial supplication occurred on May 31 in a classroom at Amelia Elementary School in Beaumont, reports local ABC affiliate KBMT. A preschool student led the brief prayer, which ended with the words “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” The student seems to have been following the instruction of a preschool teacher.

Amber Barnhill, a self-identified Christian and one of the parents in attendance at the graduation, spoke with the teacher responsible for the prayer. This conversation must have gone poorly. Barnhill told the ABC affiliate that she was especially offended by the teacher’s response.

“She said it was legal, that it was freedom of speech,” Barnhill told the station. “She said it wasn’t her religion; it was her way of life. And she continually said that she could not allow herself to apologize.”

The teacher with whom Barnhill spoke would only speak anonymously with KBMT but she tells of a pretty different exchange.

“The little girl said something like, ‘Thank you God for this day. Bless us all. In Jesus’ name, Amen,” the unnamed teacher explained. “I didn’t intend to impose. I just tried to mock a graduation. I did apologize to the lady who was the only one that I found that was offended.”

Whatever the case, Barnhill contacted the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which now describes the fleeting prayer at the preschool commencement as “a serious violation of the First Amendment.”

“I expect acknowledgement and accountability,” she demanded.

She said she also expects that no one in Beaumont will ever again invoke religion at a public school’s pretend graduation for preschoolers.

The Beaumont Independent School District will respond to the letter of complaint after it conducts a meticulous investigation of the preschool graduation ceremony, according to a spokeswoman.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation has contacted a number of school districts this year with various demands, ultimatums and threats of litigation.

Last month, a Texas judge ruled that cheerleaders at Kountze High School (just north of Beaumont) can display banners emblazoned with biblical verses at football games. An angry letter to the school district from the Madison-based outfit had kicked off that fracas.

The FFRF won a battle against a rural Ohio middle school where a portrait of Jesus had hung since the Truman administration. For a few months, school officials had said they would fight an Establishment Clause-based lawsuit but they caved when the school district’s insurer refused to pay to defend the lawsuit. (RELATED: Rural Ohio school district surrenders to ACLU over Jesus portrait)

The FFRF also demanded a school district in New York force a devoutly Christian teacher to eradicate religious material in her classroom, including two quotes by Ronald Reagan. (RELATED: Teacher claims school district forced her to purge classroom of Bible verses, Reagan quote)

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